In late June 2019, while en route from the far east to the Mediterranean Sea, general cargo vessel “BOW DIAMOND” (7.500DWT – built 2001) experienced very heavy weather conditions during her passage through the Gulf of Aden. The vessel was laden, among others, with 29 containers containing IMDG Class 1 explosives in bulk (bagged TNT and RDX) and appurtenances (detonators, detonating fuses etc).
During the bad weather, container lashings in hold no1 broke, resulting in the containers bashing around the cargo hold in heavy seas, with some breaking apart or opening up and their contents getting spilled inside the hold.
All other countries along the ship’s route declined offering shelter to the vessel except Egypt, where the vessel ended up alongside berth in Ain Sokhna Navy base.
The vessel arrived at Ain Sokhna on 4 July 2019. Owners and their insurers appointed two teams of experts to handle the situation onboard but by the 16th July no progress was made. The Owners contractors eventually concluded that the services required in order to bring the vessel and cargo a safe condition capable of returning to her normal commercial operation, was something that could not be done within safe and acceptable parameters. Their advice was that a professional salvage company should be contracted as “an unconventional approach, with acceptance of high / ‘unacceptable’ risks, is required”.
FOS was initially contracted on 17th July on commercial terms to advise and coordinate the necessary works on a costs and material basis. Only a week later, everything reached a standstill to the extent that FOS were required to produce an operations plan for the authorities and we were unable to, with no cooperation from cargo and lacking access to vital information or any decision making powers. To overcome the impasse, it was then proposed by the shipowners that the Wreckhire is terminated and services continue under a Lloyds Open Form.
The LOF was signed on 29th July. Salvors engaged explosives and hazmat experts to handle the spilled cargo together with the salvage team, mobilized specialized equipment from abroad and set up appropriate procedures and action plans to mitigate risks. In the course of the following month, salvors removed all containers, spilled cargo and debris from inside hold no1, re-packed and re-stowed all cargo in new containers, neutralized the cargo hold space from explosive residues contamination and re-loaded the containers back onboard.
In total, out of the 508 tons of explosives carried onboard “BOW DIAMOND”, 48 tons (1920 pcs of 25kgs bags) had been disgorged inside the cargo hold while the majority of the balance still needed re-stowage and re-packing into sound containers. 373.000 kgs of IMDG Class1 explosives (the contents of 29 containers) in total were manually handled by the salvage team and the salvors expert subcontractors, in slightly less than a month.
The salvage team was in danger of suffering from heatstroke as local temperatures were reaching 50oC at daytime with the team working with full cover personal protective equipment – Ain Sokhna literally means “hot spring”. TNT and RDX are poisonous when inhaled or in contact with bare skin. But most importantly there was the risk of explosion onboard, that could be initiated by heat, sparks, static discharge, shock or friction. The blast radius in the worst case scenario was calculated by the salvors explosives experts at the time to be more than 9 kilometers.
Following an unprecedented operation, the LOF came to an end on 4th September 2019, with the vessel lying safely alongside berth in Ain Sokhna ready to resume her passage and all cargo affected by the incident safely back onboard.